Review: Never to Live, by Just B. Jordan

nevertoliveSynopsis:

Elwyn is a young half-elf who has suffered greatly in life. Having escaped from prison, she has to deal with self-created insanity in order for her to deal with a dark secret in her past. However, it’s not just her that is in turmoil. The entire land is; the elves are under assault by dragons that decimate their villages one by one, the humans are oppressed by twelve tyrannical kings, and the other, forgotten races seem little better. When Elwyn sets in with the elven survivors of an ambush, she begins a journey that will either lead to her sanity, or the destruction of everything.

Rating:

Four stars out of five. Much better than usual book that is only marred by packing in too much at once.

What’s good:

  •  Creative. There’s a very deep and interesting mythology here with tons of races and a backstory that grows stronger the deeper you go into the book. This is NOT vanilla Christian fantasy, but is a complete alternate world that uses fantasy tropes and twists them enough to make a new, intriguing tale.
  • Different character in Elwyn.  When the blurb says she is half-insane, she really is half-insane. The story is as much about her psychological re-integration as much as the external events, and she’s a suffering, pitiable character while still being deadly, prone to rage and regret. Much different from the usual hero types.
  • Intelligent, deep fantasy. It has a mature tone different than many Christian books. I don’t think too many get into the emotional life of the main character as much, or talk about the struggle they would face after abuse. There’s also less black and white and more grey in the portrayal; all the races have their own reasons and many times evil is tragic, while good is belligerent or reacts to tragedy realistically.

What’s bad:

  •  Lot of terms and concepts to get in the beginning. It wasn’t till 25% in that I felt I had enough of a handle of the world to get it. Part is that Elwyn is a very unreliable narrator at the start, and part is the world uses a lot of concepts and throws them in without much explanation. The usual fantasy tropes are turned a bit on their head; magic is called “persona” and elves and dragons interact in odd ways. This combined with the deep history of the world means you have to pay attention a bit more than usual.
  • Dark book. Death, madness, and despair. It doesn’t shy away from these things. There is a good ending, but you walk through a lot to get there, and to the books credit it didn’t ever feel like they were abusing Elwyn for cheap pathos. It’s nice if you like that but some may not.
  • Too long. This is a toss-up based on preference. I think I wouldn’t have minded two books mostly because it might have made the explanations easier. There’s really a lot of lore and information here, and some things are barely touched on. In one book, at times it feels rushed; like there’s little explanation of why mermaids exist, or why the world’s spiritual situation is the way it is in terms of history. In two it probably would have gotten a fifth star for me.

My thoughts:

At first I wasn’t crazy about it, because given how unreliable Elwyn was as a narrator and a large info-dump about a strange new world was handled dragged the book down. I’m glad I stuck with it though, because once you get a handle on things the book becomes very good indeed. There isn’t much in the way of psychologically rich dark fantasy in the Christian market, and the book really sparkles in the creativity of its world and its scenes. A stronger book than I thought, and a worthy purchase indeed.

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3 comments

    1. No, actually it was a good book. Combination of the holidays, a slight disillusionment with the state of Christian spec fiction, and no new releases from the big presses has slowed down my reading some.

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